2005 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Showcase

2:30-5:00 p.m., April 19, 2005
Mary Gates Commons

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2:30 Posters | 2:30 Roundables | 4:00 Posters | 4:00 Roundtables

Teaching Quantitative Thinking Holistically

Robert C. Francis and Jodie Little - School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

How do students learn to think quantitatively, especially when coming from different backgrounds? Some students begin Introduction to Quantitative Fisheries Science (Fish 456) with a broad range of quantitative skills, others have knowledge of marine policy, while others have neither. Introduction to Quantitative Fisheries Science (Fish 456) is a 20 student, 5 credit lecture/computing lab/discussion course. Typically, students include both graduate and undergraduate students from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and graduate students from the School of Marine Affairs. Our goal is for Fish 456 students to gain a common suite of quantitative skills which they can apply to fisheries science and policy issues. To achieve this goal, we operationalize two basic concepts: 1) people learn in different ways, and 2) students learn the most from other students, then from peers, then from professors.

The balance of professor-led lectures, graduate student-led computer labs, and student-led discussion is fundamental to the success of Fish 456. The approach is simple and holistic as students are challenged to learn not only the math and computing skills in lecture and lab, but then discuss the concept and place it in context during discussion. These student-led discussions are one arena in which they interact, but they also are encouraged to work together extensively on homeworks and exams, which they do.

Holistic teaching seems a natural approach, but is it effective? We felt that the greatest expression of their success was their final exam. The final was a take home exam, which consisted of approaching a marine issue from several viewpoints, using various quantitative methods. Across the board, students succeeded not only in demonstrating use of quantitative skills, but in assessing strengths and weaknesses of methods as applied to real issues.

What we find is that when skills are taught to students in a variety of ways, when they are encouraged to collaborate on challenging, but structured, assignments, they show a remarkable ability to reach a common and higher plateau of learning, regardless of their ability or inability to think quantitatively prior to the course.

Roundtable Discussion, 4:00-5:00 p.m.